Pew: LGB Americans much less religious than heterosexuals

On Tuesday, Pew released data showing that lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans are nearly twice as likely as heterosexual citizens to identify as religiously unaffiliated, and more than twice as likely to identify as atheist or agnostic.

While a majority of the LGB community remained affiliated with a religious faith, the majority was a narrow 59-41 split unaffiliated. For heterosexual Americans, the breakdown was 78-22 affiliated/unaffiliated. 72% of heterosexuals identified as Christian, compared to just 48% of LGB Americans.

Religiously affiliated LGB respondents were also less likely to identify with a major Christian sub-groupings such as Evangelical or Catholic, with a greater share identifying with smaller denominations.

As it turns out, when your faith is openly hostile toward a specific group of people, members of that group don’t believe what you have to say. Funny how that works.

Despite the fact that the Bible as it was originally written was likely far less fire-and-brimstone about homosexuality than religious conservatives interpret it to be today, the history of religion in the modern era has been marked by persecution and hatred towards those who did not conform to heterosexual norms. LGB Americans are consistently told by religious conservatives of all major faiths — with the Jewish community being only a partial exception — that they are living in sin, condemned both for who they love and for who they are. They are told that their behavior needs to be “corrected” at best and punished with death at worst, and that if the state were to protect them on the basis of their identity it would be “a defeat for humanity.”

Rainbow flag, via Pixabay

Rainbow flag, via Pixabay

Those beliefs are demonstrably outrageous in both moral and empirical bases, which makes them awfully difficult to reconcile with claims of ultimate truth. When you use religion to make claims that are clearly false, you give whoever’s listening a reason to be less religious.

To be clear, the likely reasons why LGB Americans don’t identify as religious, and in particular Christian, are the same reasons why Americans of all sexual identities are dropping their religious affiliations. The politicization of religion, especially around issues pertaining to particularly personal and theologically minor below-the-belt issues, is a turnoff for anyone who doesn’t already hold socially conservative views — a shrinking subset of the population in and of itself. The effects are simply more pronounced within the subset of the population that the Religious Right has been crusading against for decades.

That crusade may have won them a few electoral battles in the short term, but it’s looking like it will lose the war for hearts and minds in the long term.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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17 Responses to “Pew: LGB Americans much less religious than heterosexuals”

  1. Butch1 says:

    Or people who speak for “bossy pants gods.” ;-)

  2. Butch1 says:

    Hi, stranger. ;-)

  3. For formerly devout Catholics like myself, there can be a floodgate effect. While moving toward adulthood and still accepting so much of what we were taught, we begin to see the truth about ourselves. We discover that we are not what the Church has said we are with such fierce conviction. And if they were wrong about gay people…….. And the floodgates start to open. And in time you move from shaking your head about all the obvious crap that you used to believe, to laughing about it.

  4. Butch1 says:

    With good reason in most cases.

  5. rmthunter says:

    Arrogance is built into any hierarchical, authoritarian religion: there’s no arguing with God, after all.

  6. rmthunter says:

    Well, no surprise there: I remain firmly convinced that most people are decent, and when faced with a religion and moral code based on smallness, meanness, and fear, will opt out, especially when they understand that there are alternatives, including “none of the above.”

  7. RamonaPStubbs says:

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  8. aschops says:

    Yeah, no. You can look at the report and see how the questions are framed. Respondents are given the option to identify as Buddhists, too.

  9. Indigo says:

    Pretty much. Buddhists don’t respond well to Bossy Pants Gods.

  10. BeccaM says:

    Well, with fundamentalist Christians asserting that to be Christian — no matter what sect — means you are supposed to hate gay people, it should come as no wonder they’re making the entire faith look bad.

    I’m an eclectic agnostic. I rather like some of the lessons from that Jesus fellow, if he ever did exist, about not judging others, the golden rule, and all that. To paraphrase Gandhi, it’s his some of followers with whom I have a problem. I also have a strong affinity for Wicca (for the respect-for-nature angle) and Zen Buddhism (for the detachment from worldly things).

    To me, the absolute height of apostasy, hubris, and hypocrisy is when someone claims God told them to achieve some worldly goal, such as running for high office. Or that Jesus has specifically forgiven them for some heinous crime, such as child molestation, and that that should be the end of the matter. Or that God actually gives a damn which football team wins a game.

    Anyway, yeah… It also would not surprise me to find a sub-correlation between straight people who favor gay rights leaving these religions, too.

  11. mf_roe says:

    serve that sandwich at room temperatue

  12. mf_roe says:

    You Buddhists are all about finding understanding WITHIN yourself ,Right? Bottom-up striving instead of authoritarian command and control from your Leaders. For most Americns that doen’t sound like any RELIGION they are familiar with.

  13. 2karmanot says:

    Considering that Christianity ( for example) is a form of severe mental illness, it is no wonder that Hell on earth exists and that Heaven is an egg salad sandwich on Wonder Bread with Miracle Whip, no salt, no pepper wit bits of shell, and eaten in a Wal*Mart cafeteria.

  14. FLL says:

    Persecuting a group of people for centuries makes them less likely to share your values or beliefs. Go figure.

    Don’t believe the fundamentalist Christians when they tell you that same-sex marriage didn’t exist in the Western world during ancient times. You can prove they’re lying because no one passes a law to make something illegal if it doesn’t exist. There is plenty of historical documentation describing celebrations of same-sex unions throughout most of the Roman Empire. But here’s the smoking gun: in 347 CE, Constantine’s Christian sons (Constantius II and Constans I) passed an edict outlawing same-sex marriage and prescribing the death penalty for anyone so married. That will only be reversed when the Western world’s major power makes same-sex marriage legal again. Sooooo… 2015 CE minus 347 CE equals 1668 years. You would think that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court thinks 1668 years is quite enough.

  15. Indigo says:

    Treading cautiously. Actually, I’m a fairly devout practicing Buddhist (not a vegetarian, that’s something else entirely!) but I habitually respond to those polls as non-religious because, as far as I can see from the way Pew frames their questions, they are working with the tacit default assumption that really, you’re a good Christian, right? Push-polling, in other words. So the correct answer to their lightly veiled question is, No, I’m not a good Christian.

  16. 2patricius2 says:

    Yes, it is not at all surprising that people who are demonized by religious groups in the name of their god, would reject not only the groups, but also the god in whose name they are demonized.

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